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Relational prayer is prayer for the propose of drawing closer to God, of getting to know Him better. It allows us to experience and enjoy His presence. It helps us to develop and expand our personal relationship with God, to get to know His nature experientially. There are many types of prayer that fall in this category. We have already looked at worship, conversational prayer, intimacy prayer and Spirit-directed prayer. Let's look at two more of them.
Listening prayer is precisely what it sounds like. It is listening to God on whatever topic He wants to talk about. Sometimes this will come from you seeking God earnestly to speak to you about a certain area. Other times God will initiate it without you having ever sought Him on the subject. Sometimes God speaks to you about an issue you are facing. Other times He may talk about an aspect of your character or nature that He desires to "work on." Sometimes God will tell you about heavenly things.
It doesn't really matter what topic God decides to talk to you about. It is a very good idea to listen to Him when He decides to speak to you about something.
Sometimes God will meet you in private places to talk with you. He frequently talks to me when I am in the shower. God frequently talks to a close friend of mine when she is driving alone in her car. God will "break in" to your routine and begin to speak to you about something.
God can touch on any number of topics. One time He began telling me a bit about angels. For instance, sometimes when God gives an angel an assignment, He leaves it up to the angel's discretion how to carry out the assignment. God may give the angel a message to deliver. He may leave it up to the angel to decide whether to do an angelic visitation or give the message to the person in a dream, or perhaps another way. God lets the angel decide the precise details of how to carry out the assignment, and He allows them to use some creativity in this. (There are also times when He gives them explicit instructions down to the last detail.) I was really surprised when He talked to me about angels, because I didn't need to know those details to be effective in my walk with Him.
Sometimes God will talk to us about heavenly things simply because He likes talking to His children. Other times He will talk about very practical things that we need for our Christian growth. Sometimes He discusses an area of our life that we need to turn over to His lordship. Or He may choose to talk to us about something He is going to do in our lives.
Let me give you an example. God was about to bring me into a training module on His holiness. He told me to sit down to write, telling me in advance what He was going to do, so that I would be prepared when it happened. Here is a portion of what He said to me:
I am going to begin to reveal My Holiness to you. This will be a frightening time for you, for it is a fearsome thing to come before the very presence of Almighty God. Child, know that your sins are forgiven. When you stand before Me and taste of My holiness, you will be overwhelmed with your own sin. Know that each and every sin is under the blood of the Lamb and is forgiven and cleansed. You are going to find that My presence, which you have so desired, is not at all like you expect it to be. It will truly be terrifying for you, but at the same time it will be a time of awe for you. It is not possible to come before the presence of the living God and not be totally overwhelmed. When you stand before Me, you will be aware of every imperfection and every impurity. And child, you will be horrified with how you will see yourself.
Know in advance that I am not horrified with you. You have been seeing Me through a very thick cloud, through a veil. I am about to lift the corner of that veil and give you a glimpse of My glory. You will not be able to handle it, no human being can. You will be so frightened that you will want to run away from Me. But fear not, I am going to prevent you from doing that, for if you did, you would "kick yourself" over that behavior for a very long time. You will be so terrified and overwhelmed with My glory and My holiness that you will not be able to think clearly.
Do not be frightened of making inappropriate responses. Child, it will not be possible for you to respond to Me in a manner that you consider appropriate; you will not be in control at all. I will be in control.
You will find that I am good and I am loving and I am full of mercy and grace. At the same time, child, you will find that I am truthful and I am realistic. I am going to examine some areas of your life where you will not measure up. But fear not, I am not coming to condemn you, but to reveal and then to transform. Child, you will feel very small in My manifest presence. But know this, I am with you and I am for you and I will cause you to be changed and transformed.
This next one may sound a little strange, but did you know that God can and will bring His glory and Lordship into our imagination? Left to our own devices, our imagination is usually a wicked and carnal thing, as per Is. 65:2 and Is. 66:18. But the Holy Spirit wants to transform our minds (including our thinking and our imagination). He wants to renew our mind. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will." In other words, we can submit our imagination to God and ask Him to transform it and us it to His glory.
There was a time when my imagination was very ungodly. My thinking was not sexual in nature, but I found lots of ways to sin in my thought life, all involving imagining certain things. It became a stronghold the enemy had over me.
At one point, about 13 or 14 years ago, God broke that stronghold and set me free from it. God gave me back control over my imagination. But I was terrified to use it, afraid that I might fall back into bondage. One day, I prayed, "Lord, please bring Your presence into my imagination. Let it be used for Your glory." I didn't really expect God to answer that prayer, and I was quite surprised the first time He did.
What God did was to invite me to stretch my imagination toward heavenly things and things of God. One time I was reading the story of how God delivered Israel from Egypt's captivity. I came to the part in Exodus 14 where God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass on dry land, and Pharaoh forced his army to pursue them through the parted sea. I found myself wondering what it must have been like from the soldiers' perspective. I mean, God was a pillar of fire standing between them and the people they were chasing. Chariot wheels were falling off, slowing them down. They were marching between giant walls of water towering over them. I wondered what it was like from their perspective, since they were enemies of God.
Suddenly I felt God telling me to let my imagination run with that. At first I was afraid to do that because of the past problems I'd had with enemy oppression regarding my imagination. But God promised to be with me and invited me to let Him use my imagination to His glory, just as I had prayed.
So I mentally "became" one of the foot soldiers chasing the children of Israel. I remember feeling very nervous about entering the tunnel between the ocean as the water towered over my head. But I knew that I'd face instant death if I did not move forward, because my commander would thrust me through with his sword. So I pressed in. Somehow in the midst of all this, I ended up somewhere near the front of our line. When I saw the pillar of fire form before me, I suddenly realized that this was really a powerful God. I found myself wishing that I could know this God, Who cared so greatly for His people and protected them in such powerful ways. I found myself dropping to my knees before this God. I knew that I would get run through with a sword from my commander if I did not get up, but somehow knowing this God seemed more important than life itself.
(Let me explain that this was what I call a "pretend." I knew it was not real. I knew that in reality I was sitting in my prayer room, but I could still sense and identify with the feelings and emotions of this "pretend" soldier much more than if I were watching a movie in a theater.)
In my pretend, I found myself praying, "Oh God of the Israelites, I want to know you. Is there anyway that this is possible?"
Just then, flames from the pillar of fire shot out and devoured the solder who was advancing toward it on my left. I did not move, but remained kneeling before God. I could literally feel His presence and His holiness (just like I have felt His presence in a vision or other times when He chose to manifest Himself to me in a tangible way. I knew this was a pretend, but God's presence in it was real. I sort of pulled out of the pretend scenario, becoming frightened of how involved I had become in it. God spoke to me and told me it was OK; He was with me. He told me to allow my imagination to continue and to get to experience Him from this perspective.)
So I allowed the pretend to continue. I remember feeling surprised that my captain never ran me through with my sword. The other soldiers near me began to retreat after the one was consumed by the flame. But I remained kneeling before this God. I felt the same terror I once felt in a "real vision" when I was transported before God's throne and saw some measure of His glory. I knew that in the pretend, the blood of Jesus was not covering this foot soldier. I expected the fire to devour my "character." But instead God began to speak to the soldier. He said that He would accept the soldier as His own if the solder desired to honor and serve Him. The soldier would have to lose his physical life with the other soldiers, but God would grant him eternal life if he believed on God. Still pretending to be the soldier, I expressed a very real commitment to His Lordship in my life, whether I was to live or die. I remember feeling astonished by the grace that God had for those who turned to Him, even back before Jesus came to die for mankind.
The pretend continued a bit longer, but you don't need to know all of details. The point is that God used my imagination to allow me to feel and experience things (knowing they weren't really happening) in a seemingly "real" fashion. It made me experience God's character and His nature and His grace from a different perspective, and the end result was that I became even more in awe of Him and felt even closer to Him.
Since that experience, the Lord has invited me to use my imagination to feel His glory in many other ways. Once I experienced what it might have felt like to Isaac walking up the mountain with Abraham so he could be sacrificed, and then experiencing God's faithfulness when Isaac's life was spared.
We can invite God to bring His glory and presence into our imagination. Sometimes He will use our imagination (when yielded to His Lordship) to reveal a bit more of His character and nature to us, to draw us close to Him. This type of thing must not be confused with visions or divine visitations. They are very different things. But God would like us to present our minds and imaginations to Him. At times He likes to show us things about Himself through applying our imagination to Bible stories, etc.